Panthers back from the dead
IF yesterday's Group 2 clash at Rex Hardaker Oval was a Monopoly game, Sawtell used up their get-out-of-jail-free card.
If the Panthers want to re-produce the form they showed for the first hour of their encounter of Macleay Valley in the finals though they will have very little chance of passing go or collecting $200.
The way Sawtell mishandled the ball in the first half you could be forgiven for thinking that the massive storm that hit the Coffs Coast just as the match ended had actually occurred prior to kick-off and turned the ball into a piece of soap.
The Panthers completed only six of 20 sets in the first half with silly handling errors rather than swarming Macleay Valley defence the issue.
Somehow though the Mustangs didn't punish the home team as they should have and after 50 minutes it was amazing that the lead was only 19-6 after Anthony Cowan kicked a field goal.
That meant that Sawtell needed to score three times to win and suddenly it clicked.
Completed sets and quick play the balls up the middle allowed Dale Middleton to grab two tries while Dean McLaughlin also crossed and 15 minutes later Sawtell had grabbed the lead in a Houdini-like performance.
Sawtell coach Rohan Loudon has been urging his team over the past six weeks to lay a solid platform up the middle before letting the backs take advantage of good field position.
Fellow team leader Ryan Prevett said sticking to that plan was the reason for the dramatic turnaround.
“We just played direct, when we played direct we looked good,” Prevett said.
“The game is a lot easier when you hold on to it (the ball).”
Macleay Valley coach Willie Lockwood didn't know whether to laugh or cry after the full-time whistle was blown.
His team had just dominated a fellow title aspirant for almost an hour. That was the good news.
The bad news was that despite being in control the Mustangs were unable to claim the two match points that would've guaranteed them at least a home semi-final and possibly a shot at the minor premiership.
Lockwood though said that not having a week off in the finals may be a blessing.
“I'd rather not have the break so it's better if we keep playing but if that's all that they've got to bring to us then I'm happy,” Lockwood said.